Former warden approved misleading press release on inmate Matthew Hines's death
Release said Hines was 'found in need of medical attention' and 'immediately' given CPR — but neither was true
The former warden of Dorchester Penitentiary approved a press release that included false information about the death of Matthew Hines, according to emails obtained by CBC News.
But the heavily redacted records don't reveal where the false narrative originated.
The press release, published on the same day the Cape Breton man died, said that he was "found in need of medical attention" and that "staff members immediately began performing CPR."
Neither was true.
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The release doesn't mention anything about how Hines was pepper sprayed at least four times at close range by correctional officers, all while he was handcuffed and restrained. An autopsy linked his death to the pepper spray.
Hines was surrounded by guards during the incident and wasn't "found" in need of medical attention.
A 56-minute video that shows the entire incident, beginning when Hines refused to go to his cell and ending when he was loaded into an ambulance, doesn't show anyone performing CPR on Hines at any point at the prison.
Hines didn't receive CPR until he was in an ambulance heading to the hospital, where he was pronounced dead. He was 33.
The press release was the only public information available about Hines's death for more than a year. It's still available on CSC's archives and has never been corrected.
Catherine Latimer, executive director of the John Howard Society, wants Correctional Service Canada to explain where the incorrect information came from.
"Anybody who saw that [video] couldn't really justify making the statement that CPR or any kind of medical intervention was medically applied," Latimer said.
"It's just so inaccurate, it's unbelievable."
CSC declined an interview request about the press release.
In an emailed statement, spokesperson Kyle Lawlor wrote that policy requires CSC to issue a news release within 48 hours of an inmate's death, "using information that is available at the time."
"News releases are co-ordinated by CSC's regional communication staff with the help of institutional staff," Lawlor wrote.
"The subsequent investigation process resulted in a more detailed understanding of the events that transpired."
CSC has since "refined" its communications procedures "to ensure a higher level of review, as we recognize the importance of clear, accurate and consistent public communications on deaths in custody," the statement says.
According to CSC records, Ed Muise, the Dorchester warden at the time, was informed of Hines's death just minutes after he died at 12:04 a.m. on May 27, 2015.
Within an hour or two of the death, nearly all staff who were involved with Hines that night had written their observation reports. The reports would later be entered as evidence in court proceedings.
The closest thing to that narrative in the press release appeared in the nurse's observation report. The nurse, who was later fired by CSC, said "proper medical attention" was "rendered" to Hines, though it does not specifically mention CPR.
None of the other reports said that Hines was "found" in need of medical attention or that he "immediately" received CPR.
But that's exactly the story that was told in the draft news release that was sent via email to Muise 12 hours after the death of Hines.
Eight minutes after he received the draft news release, Muise sent a one-word email reply: "Approved."
CSC wouldn't say exactly what materials Muise had access to before he approved the press release.
"What CSC can confirm with you is that wardens and senior managers have access to a variety of resources and information when making decisions related to an incident or crisis, including video footage, statement/observation reports and briefings from staff," Lawlor said.
Muise was the warden of Dorchester from February 2015 to July 2016, when he was promoted to assistant deputy commissioner of correctional operations for the Atlantic region, according to his LinkedIn profile. He no longer works for CSC.
When reached, Muise directed questions to CSC media relations.
CSC apologized for press release in 2016
The correctional agency apologized for the inaccurate press release in 2016, admitting there were "staff errors" that led to "inaccurate information" in that initial release.
But it has never explained those "staff errors."
An internal communications plan from 2016, listing "key messages" to use when talking about the Hines case, says "no staff were disciplined as a result of this error."
The emails about the press release were included in more than 200 pages of heavily redacted records about the Hines case released through access to information. CBC News has filed an appeal of the redactions.
The records were requested in 2016 and 2017, but CSC didn't provide a response until July 12 of this year.
The emails also discuss how to treat initial media requests about the Hines case, including discussion about how to defend a decision to not release the video of Hines's treatment before his death.
"May I ask if you could help me come up with a defensible justification?" senior communications adviser Lori Halfper wrote in a 2016 email to four other staff members at CSC national headquarters.
"If we say no, [CBC News] will press for a reason why."
CSC said CBC News would have to file an access to information request for the footage.
The agency then denied the access to information request in 2016, saying that releasing it would reveal personal information and the details of an investigation.
The footage was later entered into evidence in court and became public in April.